tv [untitled] August 15, 2011 1:00pm-1:30pm PDT
commonwealth club in formed division, connect your intellect. that is our tagline. i am the president of the inform board. tonight, we have larry hardy. the founder of burning man and he is here to talk about the amazing place and phenomenon known as black rock city. he is one of the original planners and architects. we are going to talk about the path of burning man, the future as well. before we jump into the question that had to do with what is going on, tell us about your new headquarters and how that came to be, why the move into the
heart of san francisco? >> well, we were on third street, in what is left of san francisco's industrial district , and we got lonely, really. [laughter] we saw real estate values dropping precipitously. as far as we were concerned, that was a good thing because it enabled us to move into market street. the city had encouraged us to do so, too, as they were very much interested in revitalizing market, 6th and market, which is
essentially part of the tenderloin. we thought there were a lot of opportunities there. we know something about making urban environments vital. given the present political move, people are open to new ideas. that is true across the country. our burners are being asked to come into centers of various cities for aetna. -- right now. whehowever, as soon as things gt
better, they are escorted out. but we might begin to break that cycle. it is just wonderful to walk out on the street and see the world walking by. >> are you giving the twitter deal? >> yes, we are. we just founded a new nonprofit. black rock arts foundation, which is dedicated to spreading interactive, a collaborative art throughout the world. now we have founded but we call the burning and project. -- what we call the burning man project. it eventually leads to the event itself.
this is a wonderful opportunity. the thing about burning man, when you look at the variety of people that go there, when you look at this environment, where all the normal boundaries are down in every department of human knowledge and endeavor. if you ask what possible application that we have created that may be useful loud in the desert, -- what would it have an application to? education, urban planning, disaster relief. needless to say, we are ambitious than we think we can
affect the course of things. we hope to in this century. >> i wanted to dig a bit more into that. i would love it if you could maybe help contrast the radical levels of participation and involvement that you see at burning man with the current status of san francisco. for a city that has so many creative and imaginative folks, perhaps there could be more to be done on the civic involvement front here. >> we formed a relationship with mayor newsom a while back.
i met him at his office and presented to him -- major artistic genre at black rock. and this is portable monumentality. we told him there are great portable monument works of art all around the bay area. not so much in san francisco, but certainly in oakland. in the east bay. there are some facilities left in the city. being an acute politician, he soon realized what that meant.
it was the answer to a political problem. if you put a piece of art in a neighborhood, community members will bicker about it endlessly. if it is only there to be there three months, that is something else coming in deed. i could see a light bulb above his head when we said that. -- something else, indeed. one could just create art paths out of durable materials upon which you could amount to such works of art. then the entire city, given the supply of createive talent, the whole city could be a revolving
work of art. that would be wonderful. that is what black rock city is. why not transpose that to san francisco? i think the city is now looking at doing art paths for that purpose. it would not be hard, given the abundance of -- after so many years in the desert, there is a huge backlog of brilliant art. magnificent piece is done by armies of artists working together. so that is an obvious things that could be instituted. i also pulled him that we did not have any trash cans in our city. we did not really continue that dialogue. [laughter] >> the question that everyone in
san francisco is asking now, i'm going to ask you as a formality. are you going this year? have you ever missed one? have you ever wanted to? >> no. [laughter] at one time, i was very much needed -- i am still needed, from time to time. although, if i and my partners have done our job, we should not be needed that much. i am like anyone else out there. it is a big place. it is hyperactive. not only are there 100 things, but they are all happening at one time. thousands of things happening at
one time. i feel dwarfed by it. it is humbling. i have an idea of what is coming up, but you have to realize, burning man is very much a spontaneous creation, and the emergent phenomenon. that means you do not really know what is going to be there. we fund art, but that is only a fraction of the art that happens. we had a guy a few years ago show up unannounced with a 10- story modular skyscraper. i just want to see what is going to happen. [laughter]
>> speaking of what is going to happen, looking at the activities going on around the monumental art, the people that are in this emancipated state of mind, how does it stack up to the average city, as far as number of injuries and such, in that window of time? >> it is a remarkably safe place, actually. there is no pavement. [laughter] and you cannot drive your car. that eliminates most injuries right there. it may feel like the world is coming to an end when the dust rises and the colts the world,
but it is not. it is true, your habitation could blow away if you do not secure it. but that is not the end of the world. [laughter] in terms of public safety, it is very -- and we have emergency response times that would be the envy of any city that size. we are very well organized. you are more likely to fall in your bathtub and break your hip. there are some typical injuries, but mild. we have had a couple of deaths, but from natural causes, one
from an accident at the event site. of course, what city hasn't? we used to scare people with that. in the old days, just to let people know, this required hardihood. we put down that people had died here. well, they have died everywhere. and we still scare some people a bit. people are not used to this unmediated environment. as long as you drink water, you are probably going to be ok. there is not a lot of criminal activity. everyone is really over provided for.
to meet the survival challenge, they oversupplied. superfluous goods that people end up giving away to one another. there is really not a lot of crime. there is too much to do. [laughter] >> could you talk more about that factor, that there is an abundance of good, which is interesting, being in the desert. the economic system that is up there. we talked a long time ago for a "for a magazine" story. one of the things that you said is that commerce, in an of itself, is not the enemy. it is the backbone of
civilization. >> to be against commerce is to be against your clothing. who would be against commerce? we just said we are living in a world that has been overly come modified. where everything has been turned into a commodity value. people do not have the identities. we are world full of brands and no identity. you can read your entire life -- you can do your business and go about in the world using your credit card and never really look anyone in the eye. a world in which things have been comodified, things that
should never have been. you cannot put a price on love. you cannot put a price on things that make life meaningful. but this isn't a consumer culture. even though we know we cannot keep it up. if the chinese adopt our lifestyle, we are all goners, we know that. it is not the third world anymore, it is the developing world. well, they are developing and they want things, too. the 21st century will be about competing for resources. there are not enough in a consuming world when there is no limit of appetite. it is a philosophic position. it would be interesting for people to live in a world as people did at the beginning of the modern era and centuries
before. people were not relentlessly comodified, the way they are now. people should live in an environment where nothing is bought and sold, just to see what it is like. you know what that is like, within families. there are family that fight about inherited, property, but in any decent family, you are not buying and selling to one another, you are giving. that is a gift economy. it is predicated on the idea that some things have an
unconditional value. you cannot put a price on it. we just said, everything is a gift in our city. you cannot buy or sell anything. there is no advertising. you are not surrounded by this nattering pandemonium of commercial messages, which is so relentless. and lo and behold, we discovered, had a certain point in a community, when everyone is giving, -- people began to have experiences that were
revelatory. they began to feel like they were in touch with that unconditional reality, which perhaps in their youth they identified as their life's goal. it creates a world in which -- just saturated with meaningful encounter. and it seems to have been contagious because people have now left our event and they have left our world and they continued to do activities. they did not go to a festival and say their appetite. they came back and tried to change their world. that is why we are starting this
burning man project. we think there is a law that we can do together. try it sometime. try living for eight days without buying, selling, listening to an ad, and tell yourself, disco to give things to people. see what that is like. it is quite remarkable, the effect it has. i could go on forever about this. it is quite a novelty. we do not say that you can live like that all the time, but going back to my original criticism of society. we are going to moderate the appetite of the consumer, which is going to destroy us. then we are born to have to try to find satisfaction in life that did not involve high levels of consumption.
we think that kind of meditation will lead you to those things. of course, there is also what coco chanel said, the best things in life are priceless, but the next best thing is cost lot of money. that is true, too. >> two exceptions to that system, coffee and ice. how did that come to be? >> our history is full of spontaneous actions.
we are careful planners today, but none of this was really planned. a lot of it was on the basis of intuition and passion. the ice is obvious. there is no refrigeration. unless you have a recreational vehicle. you need to preserve food. and we sell it, rather than give it away. we want people to try to prepare themselves and think through everything they need to survive.
that is the other part, survival and gifting, an interesting combination. coffee, we had a cafe. it was a pretty elegant location and we thought it was pretty funny. but as the city grew, just as any city, we need public gathering places, places where people could go who did not know others. you know, one reason tourists go to union square, and they go to a public place where they can belong without knowing anybody.
every city needs space like that. we realized at our scale, we needed a civic plaza. we thought about bands, but as soon as you put them up on stage, you have these consuming crowds listening to the band. the longer they stood there the more beer bottle they drop on the ground. that did not seem attractive at all. we do not leave a trace after the event. we do not want a stage. if you want your own, build it, which people did. so we turned to copy. it affords you a social place. you can stay there all day, we do not care. we are not doing it to make money. we lose money. we do it for the sake of public
interaction. to create a civic environment that led to communal feelings. that seems like an exception to the dogma, but what did emerson say? a speech of consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. >> i was just thinking that. [laughter] going the other direction, as fast as possible, one of the things -- a pattern that has arisen over the years -- a lot of the leading engineers in the technology industry tend to meet
with each other at an burning man, recognize kindred spirits, something like that. the most recent case would be eric schmidt meeting with the founders of google up there. that would reportedly one of the big factors. what is it that makes burning man such a haven for that kind of connection? >> several factors. you think about the culture of silicon valley. eric schmidt had been some interesting papers.
he had been making the point that so much of the tech industry is project-based learning. google gives people time off to do what they want. they give them time to explore and hang out with other people, outside of the framework of this more structured enterprise. burning man, from the very beginning is project-based learning. it attracts people from every demographic that you can think of, every category. so you have to, potentially, encyclopedic knowledge assembled at this place. and the natural way to learn is project-based.
scholarship is fine, academic models can be useful for certain things, but human beings tend to learn by engaging in project- based learning. if you look at the desert -- well, here is an example. i was on a tour for the black rock arts foundation. we went to various studios around the area where artwork was getting ready for la playa. all of the big ones involving armies of people with the various skills.
it takes her attacker, a traditional art, overlapping fields of knowledge -- takes tech, traditional art, overlapping fields of knowledge. even people who were not elected to do something here, they joined other people on their project. those of you who are familiar with the world of commercial art, you must know how deeply weird that is. in order to make it any agent -- anyone will tell you at a gallery, the way to make money as an artist is to put your brand on it and make it unique. then it gives it a higher commodity value. the last thing you do is open the collaborate with other people.